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Written Ministerial Statements
Thursday 10 November 2011
Post-legislative Scrutiny of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): The Government have published today the memorandum to the Public Administration Select Committee on the post-legislative scrutiny of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 on the Cabinet Office website:
Cabinet Office carried out the post-legislative scrutiny, which includes a preliminary assessment of how far the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 has worked in practice, and has set out the findings in a Command Paper (Cm 8216) to the Committee. This is in accordance with the current guidelines of carrying out post-legislative scrutiny of a Bill within three to five years of it receiving Royal Assent.
The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): On 29 June 2010, the Minister responsible for defence personnel, welfare and veterans established a project team to identify and implement the most cost-effective organisational structure for the Army’s regional structure. The strategic defence and security review White Paper(1) (SDSR) directed that the four Army regional divisional headquarters would be replaced by a single support command and that at least two of the 10 regional brigade headquarters would close. This capitalised on earlier work which concluded that the rationalisation of the regional structure would principally increase effectiveness with the added benefit of saving resources.
On 18 July 2011, the then Secretary of State for Defence announced to the House— Official Report, columns 66-70WS—that in accordance with SDSR direction it was proposed that the Army’s four regional divisional headquarters(2) would be replaced by a single support command. The new formation, commanded by a major-general, would be known as Headquarters Support Command and it would be based in Aldershot.
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He said that its creation would lead to the disbandment of Headquarters 2nd Division at Edinburgh, Headquarters 4th Division at Aldershot and Headquarters 5th Division at Shrewsbury in 2012. Savings at the regional brigade level would be made through structural changes to each of the 10 regional brigade headquarters and to HQ London District, together with their supporting structures rather than by closing individual brigade headquarters.
Today I am announcing that consultation on those proposals has concluded and I have endorsed the approval given by the Army investment board to implement the restructuring of the Army’s regional structure. Formal consultation will now commence with the trade unions on the implementation and we plan to begin to stand up the new support command headquarters at the beginning of January 2012 when we shall disband HQ 4th Division. The headquarters of 2nd and 5th Divisions will disband by the beginning of April 2012 although tasks will continue to be carried out in Edinburgh and Shrewsbury until the end of August 2012 when we expect HQ Support Command to achieve full operating capability. The 10 regional brigade headquarters and HQ London District will also move towards their new structures from January 2012 and we expect the new structures in these organisations to be achieved by 31 March 2013.
I have written to colleagues who have the headquarters of the regional divisions or brigades within their constituencies and the adjutant-general has written to other key external stakeholders to apprise them of these developments. The project team will continue to engage with all other interested parties, especially those personnel who are affected by these changes.
(1)Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review—Cm 7948 dated 19 October 2010.
(2)In addition to HQ 2nd Division in Edinburgh, HQ 4th Division in Aldershot and HQ 5th Division in Shrewsbury, the 4th regional division is HQ UKSC in Germany. The drawdown of HQ UKSC is being addressed under the Borona programme.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Witten Ministerial Statement (Correction)
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): On 7 November I made a written ministerial statement summarising discussions at the October Agriculture and Fisheries Council—Official Report, columns 3-5WS. In the paragraph relating to the AoB item on implementation of the laying hens directive I referred to implementation beginning in 2013. This paragraph should have read:
Under any other business Council heard an update from Commissioner Dalli on implementation of the laying hens directive, which comes into force on 1 January 2012. The Commission was clear that there would be no postponement of the ban on battery cages even though at least 11 member states were unlikely to have complied with the directive by the start of next year. The Commission said it would exercise powers, beginning targeted inspection visits at the start of 2012, and would begin legal proceedings against non-compliant member states. While there was an argument that non-compliant eggs should be destroyed, this would not make political or economic sense. Instead, the use of non-compliant eggs would be limited to production of egg products within the member state of origin. There was no opportunity for member states to intervene.
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Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council
The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The Foreign Affairs Council (in both foreign affairs and development formats) and General Affairs Council will meet in Brussels on 14-15 November. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will attend the Foreign Affairs Council. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development will attend the development Foreign Affairs Council.
The pre-FAC dinner on 13 November will discuss EU-Russia, although we also expect this to cover Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus. This will be a good opportunity to explore with partners medium-term prospects for the EU-Russia relationship. We will use the opportunity to set out what we want to achieve at the EU-Russia summit on 15 December: progress on the Transnistria conflict, reduction of trade barriers and progress on a new EU-Russia agreement.
We are working to secure a strong and enduring EU commitment to Afghanistan which will reassure the Afghans that 2014 will not mark the end of international support. Ahead of the 5 December Bonn conference on Afghanistan, we want the FAC to agree a negotiating mandate for a long-term EU-Afghanistan partnership; commit to extend the EU policing mission (EUPOL) mandate in Afghanistan to the end of 2014; and make a political commitment to involvement in justice and development reform after 2014. Pakistan has a key role to play in this process, and we will continue to make the case for increased EU engagement.
We will continue to encourage partners to look at how we might incentivise the EU’s offer to its southern neighbours, especially Egypt and Tunisia, while continuing to ensure that it is clearly linked to reform benchmarks. This will be an opportunity for Ministers to respond to the recent elections in Tunisia. We expect the discussion to focus on how to maintain momentum to deliver the outcomes of the EU-Tunisia taskforce in September and plans for further support to Tunisia. On Egypt, the EU needs to assess further how its package of economic and trade incentives can support reform.
On Syria, we are urging the EU to consider increasing the pressure on the Syria regime, including through new sanctions, unless it immediately takes action to end the violence against protestors as outlined in the Arab League’s initiative of 2 November.
On Libya, Ministers will have an opportunity to welcome liberation and to reinforce EU support for the newly appointed Prime Minister of the future transitional Government. Discussion is likely to focus on progress on Government formation and an update on stabilisation issues. We want the Council to reiterate its strong message of support to the Libyan authorities.
Baroness Ashton is likely to raise briefly the continuing political impasse in Yemen and the damage this is causing to an already fragile economic, humanitarian and security environment. We expect more detailed discussion on Yemen at the 1 December FAC.
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We expect Baroness Ashton to seek agreement on the adoption of the strategic framework for the horn of Africa—which has been submitted under an explanatory memorandum to both Houses. The strategic framework focuses on regional and cross-cutting issues, including development, piracy, counter-terrorism and trade. We are broadly supportive of this approach as it will enable the EU to make its engagement in the horn of Africa more effective through consistent, coherent and complementary use of its instruments and by focusing more clearly on the underlying challenges of the region.
Baroness Ashton is also expected to seek agreement to a set of Council conclusions on Somalia. The conclusions are expected to reconfirm the EU and member states’ commitment to working with Somali stakeholders and international partners on a broad spectrum of issues including alleviating the humanitarian crisis, making progress towards a lasting political solution to the conflict, ensuring a credible and inclusive process towards a new constitution and tackling terrorist and pirate security threats that emanate from Somalia.
Baroness Ashton is expected to update Ministers on the EU-facilitated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. We expect EU member states to give Baroness Ashton strong support for her efforts on the dialogue as a way of building practical co-operation between Kosovo and Serbia and of helping both countries make progress towards the EU in a more stable fashion.
We will continue to encourage the development of European civilian and military capabilities, better EU-NATO relations and a more joined-up approach to crisis management. There is likely to be informal discussion on the EU’s military planning structures on which we have made, and will continue to make, our opposition to new institutions very clear. We expect formal conclusions to be agreed at the 1 December FAC.
We expect Ministers to be briefed on the preparations for the forthcoming EU-US summit taking place in Washington on 28 November. The summit is likely to focus on the pressing issues on the international agenda, including the global economy and the Arab spring.
Ministers will discuss the recent European Commission’s (EC) communication on “Increasing the Impact of EU Development Policy: An Agenda for Change”. The communication sets out a more strategic EU approach to reducing poverty, including through a more targeted allocation of funding. Council conclusions for this communication are set to be adopted at the next Development FAC in 2012.
This item will focus on the EC communication on “The Future Approach to EU Budget Support to Third Countries”. The communication aims to improve the Commission’s budget support mechanisms and proposes an updated approach to the provision of various types of budget support. Council conclusions for this communication are also set to be adopted at the next Development FAC in 2012.
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Ministers will adopt a common EU position for the fourth high-level forum on aid effectiveness, taking place in Busan from 29 November to 1 December 2011. The UK Government’s priorities, transparency and fragility, are well reflected in the draft conclusions. We will support proposals for an ambitious outcome in Busan, one that is endorsed by all including the broader development actors.
This discussion will be held over dinner, continuing the discussion held by Foreign Ministers during the FAC. This is an opportunity to encourage member states and the EC to provide support for the horn of Africa through 2012 for humanitarian and recovery-related requirements. We will also encourage the EC to ensure resilience is built into humanitarian efforts and communities are developed to withstand humanitarian shocks.
The European Council of 23 October focused on economic policy, the G20, climate change and foreign policy. Although overshadowed by the ongoing eurozone crisis, the focus on economic growth was welcome. The statements on Libya and the Arab spring, although not on the original agenda, were also welcome.
The Prime Minister has stated, jointly with France and Germany, that the maximum acceptable expenditure increase for the next MFF would be a real freeze in payments. This must be year on year from the actual level of payments in 2013.
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At a time of ongoing economic fragility in Europe and tight constraints on domestic public spending, the Commission’s proposal for the MFF is unrealistic. It is too large; it is not the restrained budget the Commission claims; and it is incompatible with the tough decisions being taken in countries across Europe.
The General Affairs and External Relations Council and European Council endorsed the implementation of the Baltic sea strategy in October 2009. The broad aim of the strategy is to address common challenges in the region. The GAC is expected to agree conclusions welcoming a progress report on the strategy.
Opportunities for Volunteering (Legacy Report)
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Paul Burstow): The Government have today announced the publication of the final Opportunities for Volunteering report. “Opportunities for Volunteering—the legacy report” has been placed in the Library. Copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.
The Government recognise that volunteers play an important role in building resilient communities. In the context of health, public health and social care, they contribute to the delivery of high quality health, care and support services; improving health and well-being; and helping to reduce health and social inequality. They frequently offer support to people at the most vulnerable points in their lives.
The Department supports the focus during this month on health and care by the European year of volunteering and believes this report demonstrates a long standing commitment to encourage volunteering in that context stretching back three decades.
This Opportunities for Volunteering legacy report sets out not only the Government’s recognition and appreciation of the scheme’s achievements since its launch in 1982. It also—primarily—sets out the reflections on the scheme from the Opportunities for Volunteering national agents who have delivered it on behalf of the Department. Achievements of the scheme, from the perspective of national agents, include:
developing the volunteer infrastructure;
improving volunteer management practice;
fostering an environment for projects to seek out new alliances;
helping small and emerging organisations to recruit volunteers and involve service users; and
empowering service users to become volunteers themselves.
The noble and proud tradition of volunteering across the full range of health and care settings, that Opportunities for Volunteering has embodied with distinction for so long, is being continued through the Department’s health and social care volunteering fund that was launched in December 2009 as the successor. This new fund is closely aligned with the four priorities of the new strategic vision for volunteering for health and care. “Social action for health and well-being: building co-operative communities”, the Department’s new strategic vision for volunteering, was launched in October this year.
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UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy
The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): I am today announcing the publication of the “UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011” and the Government response to the consultation launched on 22 March 2011.
The majority of comments on both policy and operational detail were in strong agreement with the overall approach set out in the strategy. All comments have been considered when finalising the updated strategy.
This strategy and Government response have been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office. The strategy can also be found at:
Consolidated Guidance on Detainees (Update)
The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron):
The Government published the “Consolidated Guidance to Intelligence Officers and Service Personnel on the Detention and Interviewing of Detainees Overseas, and on the Passing and Receipt of Intelligence Relating to Detainees”
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on 6 July 2010. The guidance was subsequently made the subject of two linked legal challenges; one brought by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the other brought by public interest lawyers on behalf of Mr Al-Bazzouni. Judgment in these two linked cases was handed down by the High Court on Monday 3 October. The Court dismissed the challenge brought by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, accepting the Government’s position that there was no material difference between “real risk” and “serious risk” as the threshold at which officers may proceed or must refer cases for more senior consideration, and that it was legitimate for the guidance to use the term “serious risk”. As a judicial endorsement of Government policy, this was an extremely positive outcome.
The Court, however, found in favour of Mr Al-Bazzouni on his challenge regarding the lawfulness of the exception in the annex to the guidance which states that the following could constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CIDT):
“methods of obscuring vision or hooding (except where these do not pose a risk to the detainee’s physical or mental health and is necessary for security reasons during arrest or transit)”.
The Court considered that although the exception could conceivably operate lawfully (so that UK officers could legitimately proceed where a detainee had been hooded in accordance with the conditions set out in the exception), it was unworkable to expect officers on the ground to judge whether the detainees held by foreign liaison services came within the exception, and that the annex should therefore be amended to omit hooding from the ambit of the exception. The relevant section of the guidance has therefore been slightly reworked to reflect this finding. The revised version of the guidance has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
To be clear, the Government stand firmly against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. We do not condone it, nor do we ask others to do it on our behalf. Officers whose actions are consistent with the guidance should have confidence that they will not risk personal liability.